Reading Hale Between the Lines (March-May 1931)

07 Jan 2020 8:55 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

Even without the text of Hale’s letters, her responses are not entirely mute, nor her character. In addition to appreciating her sympathy and understanding, Eliot praises her intelligence, insight, tact, and depth of emotion. On March 2, 1931, he observes that something, perhaps her experience as an actress, has liberated her from the limited perspective of her Boston brahmin class (on April 14, he attributes some of her frustrations to living in a confined environment). He wishes that she would confide more in him and allow him to comfort her as she does him; she seems to maintain more reserve. On April 20, Eliot continues the discussion about same-sex relationships (see my last post), reassuring Hale that she had no reason to be ashamed of the feelings or experiences she must have narrated in two of her previous letters. All of this elliptically suggests a person of substance with her own emotional resources.

Although it is subtle, Hale seems to resist him. For example, Hale performed the role of Judith (the female lead) in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever in April and May 1931. On April 20, he disparages another play by Coward, The Queen Was in the Parlor. By May 8, he has read Hay Fever twice and found something to appreciate in its fast pace and clever use of charades. On May 19 he rails against the idea of her wearing a light colored wig and names other female roles from classic plays that would suit her better. But on May 26 he congratulates her on the success of her production and on May 29 expresses interest in what she tells him about her experience as Judith. He wants the two of them to read a book together but she doesn’t seem to take him up on the suggestion. He importunes her for a photograph in almost every letter. He is unsatisfied by the resemblance in the picture she sends him in April, and it takes her several more months to produce another. Towards the end of May Eliot excuses the brevity of her letters as a sign of exhaustion from the strains of her dramatic production, and he laments that she will soon leave Boston for Seattle, where they will be separated by a continent, in addition to an ocean.

Comments

  • 07 Jan 2020 9:53 PM | Gabrielle McIntire
    These posts are incredible, Frances, and just so beautifully written and conveyed. Even your daily titles are a delight. Thank you again from those of us eagerly reading these each evening!
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    • 08 Jan 2020 10:59 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)
      Thanks, Gabrielle! I just posted on Virginia Woolf in your honor. There's so much to include in each of these missives I hardly know where to begin.
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      • 08 Jan 2020 4:14 PM | Gabrielle McIntire
        Ah, I just saw the VW/TSE post--absolutely amazing! Thank you for this, and for your ongoing generosity in sharing what you are finding at Princeton. How wonderful to know that there is so much material that even deciding what to write about each day is not easy.
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  • 08 Jan 2020 4:21 AM | Sara Fitzgerald
    These details are fascinating, Frances. As we discussed yesterday, I was reviewing the intensely passionate letters from fall 1935, when Murder in the Cathedral was in rehearsal at the Mercury Theatre. Eliot wrote Hale that Martin Browne had asked after her, and hoped she would attend a rehearsal soon. In a lovely line, two months later, he says he wants her to know that his interest in writing plays is because he wants her applause. (Sorry for the paraphrase!) Hale performed the role of Judith several times in her life; ironically, in the play, Judith's husband is a writer who is lost in his work and hungry for approval. She performed the play in Claremont in 1934, before she left Scripps on a sabbatical. Reviews of Hale's performances can be found, but it has just struck me that she saved the clippings from her Claremont performance and not others, which may reflect what was going on with Eliot at the time. She performed more in comic roles than dramatic ones, and the local critics hailed this one. “Miss Emily Hale was easily outstanding in point of acting prominence, both because she had the most insane part and because she was able to carry it off with the perfection of enlightened understanding and technique.”
    The Pomona Progress-Bulletin said that her “delightful work...would grace any professional stage.” Her “breeziness, her drawl and pseudo-aristocratic manner are captivatingly done.” In one of the many "might-have-beens" of Emily Hale's life, her director shared that the prompter for the play had commented that Hale should "be on the professional stage." The prompter's brother was the sister of comic actor Edward Everett Horton. In her adulatory letter, the director also wrote, "My only regret is that your health may have suffered from the ordeal." When Hale left California to join Eliot in England later that year, she was leaving a successful life, although there is a suggestion in the Eliot letters that there were some tensions with two persons at Scripps, one of them a dean.
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  • 08 Jan 2020 2:09 PM | Séamus Ó Cearnaigh
    Praise and gratitude from me to Frances Dickey who is stealing the show in this gripping, endlessly fascinating drama! Hilarious to think that TSE and VW liked and respected each other immensely but they may have stopped short of actually reading each other's books!
    Frances, don't stop any time soon. It's mainly thanks to you that I am having a happy new year!
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    • 09 Jan 2020 6:21 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)
      You're welcome, Séamus, but the thanks really goes to Emily Hale, who inspired Eliot's outpouring!
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